Health

Congo declares end of Ebola outbreak, sees lessons for COVID-19 fight

Congo announced the end of an almost six-month Ebola outbreak in the west of the country on Wednesday, as health authorities looked to apply lessons from the successful response to the fight against COVID-19 in Africa.

More than 40,000 vaccinated using cold-chain technology

A man is inoculated with an Ebola vaccine in 2019 in Goma, Congo. Health officials say the cold-chain technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at low temperatures could help with COVID-19 vaccination efforts. (Pamela Tulizo/AFP/Getty Images)

Congo announced the end of an almost six-month Ebola outbreak in the west of the country on Wednesday as health authorities looked to apply lessons from the successful response to the fight against COVID-19 in Africa.

The Ebola outbreak, which infected 130 people and killed 55, emerged in June, weeks before a separate epidemic in the east drew to a close. That one killed more than 2,200 people, the second-most in the disease's history.

"I am pleased to solemnly declare the end of the 11th epidemic of Ebola virus disease in Equateur Province," Health Minister Eteni Longondo told a news conference.

Longondo attributed the success of the response to the availability of vaccines and treatments as well as efforts to move treatment centres closer to local communities.

Medics vaccinated 40,000 people in communities scattered across rainforests that often lacked electricity. They used cold-chain technology to keep vaccines at temperatures as low as –80 C, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

"The technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at super-cold temperatures will be helpful when bringing a COVID-19 vaccine to Africa," said WHO's Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was applying best practices from the Ebola outbreak to COVID-19, including the use of rapid response teams of local volunteers.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic," Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said in a statement.

African countries have been spared the worst consequences of COVID-19, with relatively low death and infection rates, but the outbreak is still testing already fragile health systems.

Congo has suffered 11 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered near the Ebola River in 1976, more than double any other country.

Its equatorial forests are a natural reservoir for the virus, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and is spread through contact with body fluids.

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